Cornas, Rhône Valley, France
Making wine on the rugged granite slopes of Cornas is not for the faint of heart. It's particular location in the Rhône Valley is shielded from Le Mistral, the chilly breeze that helps temper the heat of the day. The Syrah that grows in the place they call "scorched Earth" is a testament to spending all summer in the sun: smoky pepper, leather, and the faintest perfume of dried fruit and cassis give way to a bold and legendary structure, firm in both tannin and nervy minerality. It takes years of aging to bring about its sublime beauty, and it takes years of experience to create a masterpiece that evokes it.
Franck Balthazar is a wine purist with a smooth sensibility and third-generation feel for crafting fine wine. His Cornas are as old school as it gets: plowed by horse, hand picked, fermented whole cluster, and aged in very large neutral demi-muids, the same way his father René and grandfather Casimir did it.
All of his Syrah grapes are the ancient local clone, Petite Syrah (also called Serine) (not to be confused with California's Petit Sirah), whose smaller berries yield much more concentrated and inky wines with layers of depth. In his small but powerful 3.5 hectares, Franck is also lucky enough to have secured a plot of 100 year old vines, formerly vinified by Cornas legend, Noël Verset.
Franck Balthazar - Savio Soares profile
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Sourced from a little further south, a separate 3 hectares near Vinsobres that Franck intends to buy, this Syrah-heavy Côtes-du-Rhône (with 25% Grenache) is a table wine worthy of being the intro to Franck's work. The brambly dark fruit and savory olive notes are given an wild dimension by the native yeast and no added sulfur.
Cornas Sans Soufre
The Sans Soufre is the entry-level Cornas, made from Franck's youngest vines, and, like all of his wines, bottled without sulfur (hence the name Sans Soufre). Even in this version, Franck's distinct style is apparent. His wines are interesting and classic, without unnecessary exaggerations. With a terroir like Cornas, it really is best to just step aside and let it be.
2014 Cornas Cuvée Casimir
Named after his grandfather, the Casimir is Balthazar's second-tier Cornas, made from vines ranging from 10 to 100 years old. The bold kirsch fruit shows a mineral spine with subtle hints of herb in this classic Cornas, which definitely will benefit from a bit of cellar time. Like all of Franck's Cornas, the Casimir balances power and elegance with an outstanding purity and depth.
2012/15 Cornas Chaillot
Franck Balthazar's most esteemed Cornas, half of the grapes for this cuvee come from the century old plot he purchased from Noël Verset. The grapes are energetic and potent, whole cluster fermented with natural yeast and manual punchdowns, aged for 18 months before release. This is old school Cornas, legendary and ageworthy. The tightly wound notes of cassis, mineral, game and white pepper only suggest what sort of ethereal beauty this will become in time. Let it hang in the cellar for a while, because it's very much worth the wait.